With two playoff berths on the line and a host of possible outcomes, the final weekend of the MLS season promised drama and delivered it in a big way. Kyle McCarthy kept a running diary of the weekend and breaks it down minute-by-minute.
There's only one solution for a weekend involving six teams fighting for two playoff spots, four teams tied for the final wild card spot playing on the road in search of one of those berths and a trip to Columbus.
Buckle up and grab a large cup of coffee. It's time for the return of the running diary.
2:15 (approximate): Hello, Columbus. Time to pick up the rental – thought about the Lexus, but opted for the Toyota instead – and scamper off to my downtown hotel to hack away at a couple of preview stories that could be rendered obsolete by the end of the day.
7:30: I had to suffer through a long commute to find a bar with Direct Kick to take in the night's action. Total travel time: 30 seconds to walk down the elevator and descend ten floors. Time for food and footy. There is a good chance I'm the only person in the bar with a pad and paper.
7:33: Ohioans take their football seriously. Every TV in the bar is on the Ohio State postgame show or the Michigan State-Iowa game. Point of reference: Ohio State defeated Minnesota several hours ago. As for New York-Toronto FC, the heavens have opened...
7:40: ...and the match won't start until 7:55. Weather delay? We don't need no stinkin' weather delay.
7:54: The teams trot onto the field for the last MLS match at Giants Stadium. Toronto FC opts for Emmanuel Gomez again at the back after his less than impressive performance last weekend. Interesting decision. Guess that deal for Nick Garcia worked out well for everyone, right?
7:56: Squeegee time! Bouna tries to wade his way through standing water along the goal line. Bouna time apparently does not mesh well with squeegee time.
7:58: GOAL. New York 1 – Toronto FC 0. Mac Kandji storms right down the middle of the park through Gomez and Adrian Serioux and fires home the opener. Tidy buildup play and a nice flick by the retiring Albert Celades to play Kandji in behind.
8:03: Glad to see midseason signing Walter Garcia make a contribution before his inevitable offseason release. He comes on for his first MLS appearance of the year after Mike Petke limps off with an apparent thigh injury.
8:08: Bouna time! Coundoul dives to push away Amado Guevara's far post effort.
8:14: Bouna time! Coundoul rushes off his line to plow into Chad Barrett and clear a potential breakaway with a two-footed tackle. Attention to aspiring goalkeepers: Bouna time! is not your technical role model.
8:29: GOAL. New York 2 – Toronto FC 0. Juan Pablo Angel with the goal, Serioux with the mistimed step to allot him the ample space. Maybe TFC is cursed after all.
8:34: As kickoff approaches in Kansas City, Guevara nearly drags one back for the Reds. Does anyone trust the Red Bulls with a two-goal lead? Didn't think so.
8:35: Groans ring out in playoff chasing cities across MLS as Jimmy Conrad is ruled out with a hamstring complaint. In related news, Vegas just raised the over/under on the Wizards/United game by a goal prior to kickoff.
8:43: Shot of a bemused looking Ben Olsen pops onto the screen. D.C. United head coach Tom Soehn selected Christian Gomez and Danny Szetela in his starting XI and omitted Olsen and Jaime Moreno. Szetela joins the starting XI on loan from Soehn's doghouse, by the bye.
8:50: Wondering what I would have to do to my recently cropped mane to make it look like Kei Kamara's ridiculous mohawk.
8:57: TFC and New York just spent 15 minutes in the locker room getting dry as United and Kansas City ease into their encounter. Doesn't look like the Wizards want to roll over and die.
9:00: WWJMHD? That's what popped into my head as Christian Gomez drags inexplicably wide with his left foot from 12 yards after he gets in behind the makeshift Wizards defense. For those of you who can't peek inside my head, that acronym stands for What Would Jaime Moreno Have Done?
9:05: Ridiculous lunging tackle by Davy Arnaud sparks a little skirmish along the sidelines. I move to ban all attacking players from making tackles; they just aren't very good at it, as a general rule. Ricardo Salazar properly handles the situation by ignoring the root cause of the problem (Arnaud's foolish lunging tackle) and brandishing a yellow card to Zoltan for grabbing him to protest the foul call instead.
9:06: Julius James hits the post with a header from a Christian Gomez corner kick. Well, at least Gomez can still strike a dead ball.
9:09: GOAL. Kansas City 1 – D.C. United 0. Kei Kamara scores his first goal for the Wizards with a neat diving header. No word on whether the hairdo had any impact on the finish.
9:14: GOAL. New York 3 – Toronto FC 0. Angel grabs his second and the Reds start to make alternative plans for next weekend. The interested viewers in this Columbus bar start to make alternative plans to flip on the Colorado-Real Salt Lake match right now.
9:19: Moreno comes on for the injured Gomez in the 40th minute. Glad to see injury has forced United to play the veteran schemer it should have started anyways.
9:25: GOAL: Real Salt Lake 1 – Colorado 0. Robbie Findley heads home at the far post. Take that, Jason Kreis. Findley and Andy Williams – RSL's two best players in recent weeks – both earned starts tonight after coming off the bench in Toronto. Wise move.
9:30 (approximate): FINAL: New York ends Toronto FC's season with a 5-0 thumping to close Giants Stadium. I did not see the resolution, but many said it was an ugly way for Chris Cummins to end his interim tenure as Reds boss. On a related note, how much does it cost to purchase a first-class stamp in Canada?
9:38: If Hollywood decides the world needs more chapters in the Goal! Trilogy, the casting director should give Nick Rimando a shout to fill in between the pipes. Always theatrical, that Rimando fella. The RSL stopper does well here to parry Omar Cummings' volley over the bar with a flourish.
9:42: GOAL: Real Salt Lake 2 – Colorado 0. Game, set and match in Sandy as Williams springs Findley over the top and he tucks home. Findley's sure going to make a lot of money in Scandinavia in the not-so-distant future.
9:48: Kevin Hartman reminds people that he's having a decent year by pulling a one-handed save out of the top drawer to deny Olsen's volley from entering into what appeared to be a vacated net. In keeping with his usual custom of halftime switches, United coach Tom Soehn threw Olsen on for Szetela at the break.
9:56: Soehn makes his third and final switch by inserting Boyzzz Khumalo in place of Luciano Emilio. United can clearly lean on its Designated Player when his contribution is most required.
10:03: GOAL: D.C. United 1 – Kansas City 1. Fred drew a penalty after Matt Marquess tugged him on his way to goal. The Brazilian made the most of the contact and Moreno made the most of the opportunity as his 326,478th penalty kick conversion for United barely eludes Hartman to draw D.C. level.
10:14: The mohawk didn't bring Kamara the same luck this time around as he blasts Claudio Lopez's cut back miles over the bar from 12 yards. And D.C. United breathes again.
10:17: Lopez brings a fine save out of Steve Cronin with a dipping shot. The fine stop does not change the fact that it is utterly ridiculous that D.C. could bring in the USL-1 goalkeeper of the year with two games remaining when there are pool goalkeepers available. Even if the goalkeeper in question is Steve Cronin.
10:19: GOAL: D.C. United 2 – Kansas City 1. Julius James and his recently injured hamstring leap over Marquess to head home Hartman's weak punch. Yes, Matt Marquess, you just got beaten in the air by a guy playing on one leg. Can United hold on for eight minutes?
10:26: Lopez forces Cronin into a diving save from a free kick. On the bench, Milos Kocic is probably muttering to himself.
10:27: PENALTY KICK: Lopez's resulting corner kick sparks chaos in the box. The ball bounces around, eventually falling to Roger Espinoza at the far post. He fires towards the empty goal...but...Fred handles it off the line! In stoppage time! Fred made the right call to handle the goalbound effort, but he's off and United's season is on life support. The Brazilian immediately tromped to the locker room and instructed his agent to phone every A-League club in search of a new home in time for next season.
10:29: GOAL: D.C. United 2 – Kansas City 2. Lopez just about ends United's season by firing straight down the middle as Cronin stumbles to his left.
10:31: WOW. United nearly grabs a game-winner at the death as Rodney Wallace hits the near post with a right-footed blast. Another two inches to the right and United would have had an unlikely third goal.
10:32: FINAL: United has to settle for a 2-2 draw in one of the most pulsating matches of the season. If this is it for United, they'll be gutted to have conceded so late. They'll need a draw between FC Dallas and Seattle to stay alive.
10:35: Hastily trying to get the television changed over to FC Dallas-Seattle with Colorado-Real Salt Lake still on the other TV. Since Los Angeles-San Jose doesn't have any bearing on the wild card race, that game doesn't make the cut on our two televisions. These are the difficult choices that have to be made when there are three people half-ass watching Michigan State-Iowa on the big projector screen. Football rules all, apparently.
10:36: Actually, it's “Replace Lamp” on the field instead of the Hawkeyes. My bad.
10:45: A great combination move by Sounders FC through midfield springs Brad Evans behind the FCD defense. Evans caps off the move, but he started the play a step or two behind the Hoops' backline. FCD exhales and braces for the next ten times Evans storms through midfield unmarked.
10:50: GOAL: Real Salt Lake 3 – Colorado 0. Javier Morales collects a loose ball in his own half and sends a diagonal ball to Yura Movsisyan on the right wing. Movsisyan jukes Drew Moor out of his shoes, but the Rapids defender recovers enough to force Movsisyan to fire home from a wide angle. Neat finish, all things considered.
10:52: GOAL: FC Dallas 1 – Seattle 0. Sounders FC invites Atiba Harris to shoot from 22 yards by backing off of him and allowing him plenty of room to shape and fire. Harris then tucks his effort inside the far post. Will the FCD fairy tale end in the playoffs after all?
10:58 (approximate): FINAL: Real Salt Lake 3 – Colorado 0. With the other results on the night, RSL can clinch a playoff berth if Seattle comes through at home.
11:01: With the results from the early games revising the playoff scenarios completely, I need to hack out an updated version for the late edition of the Boston Herald. Trying to keep an eye on the Seattle game while I'm at it...
11:25: How many media members, television gurus and Revolution team staffers does it take to work through the playoff permutations? Answer: it depends on whether we have Greg Lalas' iPhone to allow us to peruse Goal.com's playoff scenarios page.
11:35: Random thought as I reflect on Ljungberg's penchant to draw fouls: how does he walk after games? The Swedish midfielder gets hacked up and down the park for 90 minutes. Makes his recent uptick in form all the more amazing, quite frankly.
11:45: Phew. Beat the deadline by 15 minutes or so. Former Revs beat writers Tim Bresnahan and Mike Biglin are on the Herald desk tonight, so they've got the FCD-Seattle match on and will update the piece with the final scenarios.
11:58: GOAL: FC Dallas 1 – Seattle 1. Nate Jaqua sends those on the Revolution payroll to their feet with a simple tap-in finish provided to him by Fredy Montero's sliding square pass. Montero had plenty to do to turn Ljungberg's cross back across the face of goal and managed to do it.
11:59: Montero may have his flaws in terms of temperament and maturity, but the kid's a bit special, isn't he?
12:00: He wasn't particularly special in this instance after Dario Sala beat away Nate Jaqua's header and the rebound fell to him from close range. Instead of firing home, the Colombian lashes wide.
12:04: The tide looks like it has turned against the Hoops as Steve Zakuani forces Dario Sala to parry his drive away.
12:07 (approximate): Biglin calls and asks why a FCD draw would allow the Revs to draw Columbus tomorrow and still make the playoffs. Even the Cliff Notes version takes a a couple of minutes to explain. In my next life, I'm coming back as Will Hunting. The mathematical equations he works through are far less complicated.
12:10: Oh. My. Word. Did Montero just have his face taken off by David Ferreira's cleat?
12:11: Further inspection shows that Montero slid in needlessly from behind, committed a foul and then writhed on the ground in order to simulate apparent contact by Ferreira's cleat. Yellow card for simulation not forthcoming, however.
12:12: When I discussed Montero's flaws earlier, did I mention his dreadful playacting?
12:14: GOAL: Los Angeles 2 – San Jose 0. Someone flipped on his computer and just announced that Landon Donovan had scored in the 78th minute. Glad to hear it. Looks like the Galaxy will win the Western Conference. Worst to first. Who'd have thunk it? What a great job by Bruce Arena and company.
12:17: If Zakuani could finish, Seattle would have the lead. Zakuani blazes over a fantastic chance from eight yards after Montero lets Jaqua's cross roll through. Then again, if Zakuani could finish consistently, he wouldn't be playing in MLS. So it's a win some, lose some proposition for Seattle right now.
12:21: GOAL: Seattle 2 – FC Dallas 1. Ljungberg pops free down the left and slides the ball in for Evans at the near post. Evans jinks the ball over Sala and into the net. Guess how many FCD players tracked Evans' run through the penalty area? If you guessed zero, you'd be absolutely correct.
12:26: Fantastic block by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to keep Dave van den Bergh from equalizing from close range. Not that a draw would do the Hoops any good right now.
12:32: FINAL: Seattle 2 – FC Dallas 1. The dream is over for the Hoops as Seattle picks up its first home win since July 11. The result also eliminates D.C. United, marking the second consecutive year in which Evans officially ends its season.
12:35: After a wild and wacky night, here's what we know: Real Salt Lake is in, D.C. United, FC Dallas and Toronto FC are out, New England has new life and Colorado is on life support. One spot remains available: if New England wins or draws against Columbus tomorrow night, the Revs are in; if New England loses, Colorado sneaks in as the eight seed. Time to leave the bar and start preparing for tomorrow.
4:15: Welcome to Crew Stadium. The Bengals are on the television in the press box, so there's not much of a chance you'll see anything in this diary on the Houston-Chivas USA game. Them's the breaks.
4:45: When I think Columbus, I think tacos. That's the press box fare tonight. I'd call it acceptable, though not up to the Gillette Stadium gold standard.
5:00 (approximate): FINAL: Houston 3 – Chivas USA 2. The Dynamo takes the two seed and plays Seattle in the first round, while Los Angeles will face Chivas USA. I suspect ESPN will pick up both of these series in approximately 2.2 seconds.
5:20: Lineups arrive and Crew head coach Robert Warzycha springs a surprise by handing Kenny Schoeni his first MLS start while also naming a strong side including Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Guess he'd rather see Colorado than Real Salt Lake in the first round. Considering the warmed-over death look the Rapids have assumed in recent weeks, can you blame him?
6:09: The 225th and final match of 2009 is underway. For the second season in a row, the campaign will end at Crew Stadium with the visiting team jockeying for a playoff berth.
6:17: Andy Iro nearly hands the Revs their first goal in 248 minutes as he directs a Kenny Mansally corner kick back towards his own net. Schoeni clutches it thankfully.
6:26: This is a fun battle between Robbie Rogers and Kevin Alston. Rogers just likes to run by people, but there isn't any way he's running by Alston, who is just as fast. Since Rogers doesn't seem to have a plan B, it looks like Alston has the battle won on this evening.
6:32: Emmanuel Osei and Jay Heaps can't communicate in the middle, leaving plenty of space for a cross that Osei eventually heads clear. In recent weeks, Osei has struggled to communicate with Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis and now Heaps. Reis and Heaps are two of the chattiest soccer players you'll ever meet on and off the field, so it's fair to say Osei isn't much of a talker.
6:42: Iro heads over the bar. That makes two chances for the burly English centerback in the first half.
6:47: When you can't score from the run of play, just lump it long. Reis does just that and it nearly results in a goal. Zayner and Schoeni can't deal with the long hoof and the ball falls to Joseph on the edge of the penalty area. Joseph can't direct his harder-than-it-looked chip into the empty net. A real chance goes begging for the Revs, who have improved going forward but still aren't what one would call potent in the final third.
6:57: The halftime whistle blows on a relative snoozer of a first half.
7:13: We're ready to go again and word leaks out that Osei won't be on the field to start the second half. We find out later later that Osei sustained a left ankle injury in the pre-match warmups and gutted through the first half. Amaechi Igwe comes on at left back and Jay Heaps slides to the middle.
7:33: There goes Iro again, missing narrowly. How many goals would Chad Marshall have scored tonight if he was healthy enough to play in that spot?
7:45: GOAL: New England 1 – Columbus 0. The match looked destined for nil-nil until Jeff Larentowicz stepped up and lashed home a free kick from the edge of the penalty area. Larentowicz's first goal of the season was more than enough to hand the Revs a playoff spot for the eighth consecutive year.
8:00: FINAL: New England 1 – Columbus 0. This won't go down in the annals of history as the most exciting match ever played, but the Revs did more than enough to earn safe passage through to the playoffs at Colorado's expense.
8:02 (approximate, give or take eight hours): One of the most hectic weekends you'll ever see in MLS comes to a close. The final dates and times will leak out on Monday, but these are the first-round matchups: Columbus – Real Salt Lake, Chicago – New England, Los Angeles – Chivas USA and Houston – Seattle. It is also time to finally (!) conclude this running diary and get on a plane back to Hartford. The best news? We get to do it all again next weekend...minus the incredibly long, minute-by-minute recap, that is.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
For more on Major League Soccer, visit Goal.com's MLS page.